September 30, 2014

A look at the best-of-five American League Division Series between the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles:

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Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Thursday, at Baltimore (5:37 or 6:07 p.m.); Game 2, Friday, at Baltimore (12:07 or 3:07 p.m.) Game 3, Sunday, at Detroit (3:45 p.m.); x-Game 4, Monday, Oct. 6, at Detroit (TBD); x-Game 5, Thursday, Oct. 8, at Baltimore (TBD). (All games on TBS).

x-if necessary.

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Season Series: Tigers won 5-1.

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Projected Lineup:

Tigers: 2B Ian Kinsler (.275, 17 HRs, 92 RBIs, 15 SBs), RF Torii Hunter (.286, 17, 83), 1B Miguel Cabrera (.313, 25, 109), DH Victor Martinez (.335, 32, 103), LF J.D. Martinez (.315, 23, 76), 3B Nick Castellanos (.259, 11, 66), C Alex Avila (.218, 11, 47), SS Andrew Romine (.227, 2, 12), CF Rajai Davis (.282, 8, 51, 36 SBs) or CF Don Kelly (.245, 0, 7) or CF Ezequiel Carrera (.261, 0, 2).

Orioles: RF Nick Markakis (.276, 14 HRs, 50 RBIs), LF Alejandro De Aza (.252, 8, 41 with White Sox and Baltimore), CF Adam Jones (.281, 29, 96), DH Nelson Cruz (.271, MLB-leading 40, 108), 1B Steve Pearce (.293, 21, 49), SS J.J. Hardy (.268, 9, 52), 3B Ryan Flaherty (.221, 7, 32), C Caleb Joseph (.207, 9, 28), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.209, 16, 45).

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Projected Rotation:

Tigers: RH Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15, 252 Ks), LH David Price (15-12, 3.26, major league-leading 271 Ks with Detroit and Tampa Bay), RH Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54), RH Rick Porcello (15-13, 3.43).

Orioles: RH Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA, 150 Ks), LH Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54), RH Miguel Gonzalez (10-9, 3.23), RH Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65).

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Relievers:

Tigers: RH Joe Nathan (5-4, 4.81, 35/42 saves), RH Joba Chamberlain (2-5, 3.57, two saves), RH Joakim Soria (2-4, 3.25, 18/20 saves with Detroit and Texas), RH Al Alburquerque (3-1, 2.51, one save), LH Phil Coke (5-2, 3.88, one save), RH Anibal Sanchez (8-5, 3.43, 21 starts).

Orioles: LH Zach Britton (3-2, 1.65 ERA, 37/41 saves), RH Darren O'Day (5-2, 1.70, 4/8 saves), RH Tommy Hunter (3-2, 2.97, 11/17 saves), LH Andrew Miller (2-0, 1.35, 1/2 saves), LH T.J. McFarland (4-2, 2.76), RH Brad Brach (7-1, 3.18), LH Brian Matusz (2-3, 3.48, 0/3), RH Ryan Webb (3-3, 3.83), RH Kevin Gausman (7-7, 3.57).

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Matchups:

The Orioles lost five of six to the Tigers, but the teams last met on May 14. ... In Baltimore's lone win, Tillman allowed one run in 8 1-3 innings and Hunter got the save. ... Tillman is 3-0 with a 3.58 ERA in six career starts against Detroit. ... Jones is 9 for 18 with two doubles and a home run against first-game starter Scherzer. ... Cruz is 8 for 21 with a HR against Scherzer. ... Hardy is 4 for 23 (.174). ... Markakis (12 for 48) and Flaherty (2 for 8) are the only Orioles with a career batting average as high as .250 against Verlander. ... The Orioles' Miller was once a prized prospect in Detroit's system. He was traded as part of the deal that brought Cabrera to the Tigers before the 2008 season. ... Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera and J.D. Martinez all bat right-handed, leaving Detroit potentially vulnerable to O'Day, a righty, out of the bullpen. ... Baltimore OF Delmon Young played for the Tigers from 2011-12 and hit eight postseason home runs for Detroit. ... The Tigers and Orioles have never met in the postseason, having shared a division for a while in the AL East.

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Big Picture:

Tigers: Detroit has made the AL Championship Series the last three years, each time winning a decisive Game 5 of the division series on the road. ... The Tigers have won four straight AL Central titles, but their most recent World Series championship was in 1984. ... In Scherzer, Price and Verlander, Detroit has the AL's last three Cy Young Award winners, and the MVPs from the last three years (Verlander and Cabrera) also play for the Tigers. ... Detroit won the division by one game for a second consecutive season. Cleveland finished second in 2013, Kansas City this year. ... The Tigers signed J.D. Martinez to a minor league deal in March, and he responded with a huge year offensively. Victor Martinez also had perhaps the best season of his career with the bat to help offset a slight decline in Cabrera's numbers.

Orioles: Clinched AL East title on Sept. 16 and have coasted to finish. Manager Buck Showalter provided his starting position players with ample rest and provided his starters an extra day off between starts. Although Baltimore went 5-6 down the stretch, Showalter deemed keeping the team fresh to be more important than carrying momentum into the postseason. ... This is Baltimore's second postseason appearance since 1997. The last one, in 2012, ended with a loss in five games to New York in the division series after the Orioles beat Texas in the wild-card game. ... Baltimore enters the postseason without three key players. Catcher Matt Wieters had season-ending elbow surgery in May, 3B Manny Machado had season-ending knee surgery in August and 1B Chris Davis is serving a 25-game suspension for using amphetamines. ... Although Orioles led the majors with 211 HRs, their pitching has been a big reason behind their success. All four starters in the playoff rotation reached double-figures in wins, and the back end of the bullpen has been solid, especially since Miller's arrival via a trade with Boston on July 31.

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Watch For:

-Bullpen Blues: Nathan's seven blown saves were one below the major league high, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has stuck with his closer, as well as setup man Chamberlain. Detroit does have another closing option in Soria if Nathan falters, but Ausmus has not seemed eager to make a move. Sanchez could also be an asset in relief, assuming he is used in the bullpen after returning last week from a pectoral strain.

-Third Base Woes: Filling the void at 3B has been a problem for Showalter since Machado and his Gold Glove went missing in August. Davis filled the void until his suspension, and since that time Flaherty, Alexi Casilla, Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson have proven to be inadequate defensively. Flaherty made five errors in 43 games at third; Johnson had one error in seven starts; Paredes committed three errors in 13 games and Casilla had an error in his only start at the hot corner.

-Cruz Cruising: Cruz had a far better year than anyone could have imagined, but many of his power numbers were put in the books before the final two months of the regular season. The slugger hit one home run after Sept. 7 and had multiple RBIs in only three games since Aug. 11. He did, however, have 10 multihit games in September, including three hits against the Yankees on Sept. 23 and four the following day.

-Power Sources: The Tigers led the AL in on-base percentage despite finishing 10th in walks, so this is a team that has needed to swing the bat well to produce offensively. Cabrera should be much healthier than he was in last year's postseason, but Detroit hopes the two Martinezes - Victor and J.D. - will provide the same pop they did during the regular season.

-Buck vs. Brad: Showalter is trying to advance to the LCS for the first time in his fourth postseason appearance. Ausmus is in his rookie year as a manager after taking over for Jim Leyland following last season.

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